Simon Coveney: 'I'm voting Yes for the society I want to pass on to my girls'
TOMORROW I will vote for the type of Ireland I am going to pass on to my daughters. I do not want them to inherit a society from their parents. I want them to take charge of our society as young women and make it their own.
The conversation that has resulted in me going to the ballot box to vote Yes with certainty hasn't been a straightforward one.
I have found it difficult, I have stumbled and I have met extraordinary women and men along the way who have changed my perspectives on this deeply emotive issue. My engagement with doctors and the women who have told me their stories of vulnerability, isolation and crisis in pregnancy has left me in no doubt of the need for change.
As I write this, my three daughters are children with all the potential and energy in the world. Every week my wife and I think about how to protect them, but also to encourage their curiosity and confidence. In truth we have tried to keep them away from this debate and the posters and conversations happening around it, but they are smart and know that something is happening in Ireland.
This week, like many parents, I'm focused on the kind of Ireland my daughters will be adults in.
The Ireland their grandparents were born into saw women and girls who became pregnant outside marriage sent away to be hidden, to be put to work and to have their children taken from them.
The Ireland their mum and I were born into saw women forbidden from working and pursuing their careers simply because they had married. Contraceptives and divorce were outlawed and a person who was gay lived in the shadows as illegal.
Before our children think of these times as wrong and backward they should know that it was the people of Ireland who time and again said "no more" and brought about change. In most cases that change started with a brave few who stood against convention and ridicule. Our society has been repeatedly strengthened by informed change, despite what the opponents said at the time.
The Ireland my children were born into has been content in the knowledge that abortion is outlawed in the Constitution while ignoring the shadowy reality of thousands of women taking lonely, unsafe and cruel journeys every year.
I was content in my view, until I really took the time to confront it, and was in turn confronted by reality. Abortion is happening in Ireland, not only for the thousands of women who make those journeys to Manchester or Birmingham, but also for women who purchase abortion pills online. Those women self medicate, alone in their homes, with only a Google search for medical advice.
For a generation now the reality is that British abortion law has applied to Irish women terminating pregnancies. So when a women looks for advice about a termination linked to a crisis pregnancy she is given an address in the UK and told she's on her own.
I asked myself is this OK to continue? I believe it is not.
I do not accept that any woman makes the decision to terminate a pregnancy easily. There are all sorts of tragic and harrowing reasons for the decision. Whether I agree or disagree with the private decisions that a woman makes when faced with a crisis pregnancy is not the question, what is at issue is how the State responds to that decision: is it time to care for women in Ireland or continue to abandon them abroad?
Like many people I still hope abortion is not the option a woman or girl in crisis will take. I want them to have the supports from our State to choose the alternatives.
I respect the perspectives of both sides in this debate, but I am asking those with reservations to consider the evidence that has convinced me that voting Yes is the right thing to do.
I would also caution against some of the confusing and inaccurate claims being made in the final hours before polling. As a member of Cabinet, I assure you we cannot legislate to provide further protections for women without removing the Eighth Amendment and we cannot lower the 14-year imprisonment term for any woman convicted of using an abortion pill. This has been confirmed repeatedly by consecutive attorneys general. The current constitutional wording restricts any further change to law, that's why it needs to change.
I ask everyone, men and women, to turn out and vote. The people are sovereign and your vote means everything.
Tomorrow I will vote Yes so that the society I hand over to my daughters takes another step towards confronting our past, taking responsibility for our present and properly caring for women into our future.
Simon Coveney is Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister. He is campaigning for a Yes vote.